When kids hop off the school bus on Friday mornings, they’ve usually steeled themselves for survival. A few hours more, then out the door to freedom.
But last Friday, troops of children in summer camp with the Johnson County Park and Recreation District didn’t seem to mind being greeted by staring owls, flapping falcons and dead bats. They took their time petting caterpillars and listening to nature-themed music, and whether or not they know it, they might have learned a thing or two about nature.
Volunteers demonstrated birds of prey, bats and honeybees for kids and others who visited the Pollinator Prairie in Olathe. The free event was held during National Pollinator Week to draw attention to the animals that help plants reproduce. The populations of pollinating species such as the monarch butterfly have been threatened.
The first stop in the garden was two owls and two falcons tethered to a table. Jo Domann of Operation WildLife said the birds weren’t pollinators themselves but helped out gardeners by chowing down on bigger insects such as grasshoppers.
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Extension master gardeners including B.J. Schulenburg showed off moth caterpillars.
As camper Colin Babb, 8, petted a rubbery green hornworm, Schulenberg encouraged him to plant extra tomatoes for caterpillars to eat. When Colin said he had already done so, a fellow camper rewarded him with a friendly slap on the back.
Further into the garden, extension master gardener Barbara Willson explained to children that bats, which are also pollinators, were nocturnal and slept upside-down.
Willson said the swooping mammals shouldn’t be touched if found on the ground because they might carry disease, but they shouldn’t be vilified as vampires because they play a helping role.
“They go outside when you’re sleeping and catch all the bad insects,” she told her audience as they eyed three forms of dead bat — stuffed, skeletal and very recently found on a Kansas sidewalk.
Some kids on the garden circuit sat and listened to tunes by Bree Plaster and Heather Thornton, wearing antennae and flowers in their respective “Bumble Bree” and “Heather Nature” costumes. Thornton said the two played music at the event “to spread love and respect for the earth” and to teach the importance of pollinators.
Before they filed back to their buses, kids grabbed drinks and snacks, made crafts and play games. Some burned off energy by running around after creating bee-themed noisemakers — rubber bands wrapped around eraser-tipped popsicle sticks, tied to a string and swung around to create a buzz.